What I Learned At The Foreign Master Instructor Course At The Kukkiwon
I successfully completed the Foreign Instructor’s Course (FIC) at the Kukkiwon in Seoul, Korea. It was 5 days long for about 8 hours each day. I learned various things and had special training. I am so glad to have finished this course and so happy to be licensed as an official Taekwondo master by the Kukkiwon. One of the biggest goals in my life was to go to Korea to complete this course and become a Taekwondo master. I did it!
I will discuss a few things that I experienced and learned during the event. There were plenty of interesting things I learned as well as figured out for myself about Taekwondo and martial arts and Korea. I will mention each topic in random order below. I hope to prepare other Taekwondoin about what to expect if they decide to go to Korea and become licensed masters. I personally believe for the absolutely serious Taekwondoin, especially those learning to teach should plan to eventually complete this course and become a licensed master. I hope to tell you what to expect during the course and some of the pros and cons.
The people who can attend this course must be 2nd dan or higher. Your qualification will only be given when you reach 4th dan. Those 3rd and below are given a “completion certificate” only. 4th and 5th are given a completion certificate plus a “successfully” completion certificate. These are the 3rd class masters. 2nd and 1st class are from “6th and 7th” and then “8th and 9th” dans.
Many Lectures more than physical training
I do not remember the names of the grandmasters who taught us and lectured us. This is because they did not list their names on any program for us to follow which I thought was a mistake. They should have given us the names of each teacher on the schedule. I think this slipped their minds. But each teacher was an 8th or 9th dan. I believe only one was 8th dan and the rest were 9th. The fact high ranking masters who have been involved in Taekwondo their entire lives in some of the early days of our martial art, are taking their time to teach us lower dan grades is such an honor! We were able to hear wisdom from senior Taekwoin who are grandmasters. How often can you listen to so many experienced people speak? During the course you get to learn so much and have them tell you how it is, and how the Kukkiwon stands on positions such as history and training. You maybe agree with it, or you may not, but even so you get to know what the official Korean stances are on topics. I find this fascinating and I was very satisfied on most of what I learned. It was refreshing.
There were various topics such as history, philosophy of Taekwondo, demonstration, flexibility and first aid and more. The lecturers did not stick to one exact topic when speaking. For example the Philosophy guy spoke a bit about oriental philosophy and what the words “martial art” means, but he also spoke a lot about motivational things too. In fact most of the lecturers had a lot of motivational stuff to say. By motivational I mean they were motivating people to be martial artists and true masters. They really wanted to emphasize Taekwondo as a martial art and way to live.
A main example was how the grandmaster speaking about demonstration said nothing at all about how to make a great Taekwondo demo, but instead seemed to talk to us about how to be a true martial art master and what exactly Taekwondo is. He also talked a lot about history and dates of events. He was inspiring because he mentioned that a Taekwondo master has to know it all and research everything including actual/practical fighting. He used to be a kickboxer as well. A few of the grandmasters mentioned they did kickboxing at some point. I really think the Kukkiwon should try to emphasize practical fighting more and promote kickboxing and MMA as a valid outlet for Taekwondo competition but they are still focused on the Olympics and their annual Hanmadang performance competition. This master who taught this portion of the course was also the master who protested shirtless in front of the Korean government building against the special “jump dan” promotion test the Kukkiwon was doing for awhile. He knelt with just his dobok pants and black belt on without a shirt. He and others rightly protested it and they changed it. This guy is a true martial artist!
Other topics were about proper promotion testing procedures and some first aid stuff. Remembering everything is pretty much impossible, but they gave us a course textbook w can refer to later. There was also a guy who spoke a lot on psychology and a lot of things that I thought was nonsense. He was a University professor. I think he was possibly from Yongin. I found what he spoke about hard to follow. He even talked about the movie Basic Instinct. Of course I respect him as an academic and grandmaster of Taekwondo, but I thought his lecture was a bit strange. It was kind of weird and inappropriate because he talked about sexual topics from that movie. I had no clue why he was talking about this and how it related to Taekwondo teaching. It had to do with desire, ego, and other things like that apparently. Honestly, a lot of the lectures like that were very boring to me and there was not enough time to in-depthly discuss each issue. Also we had practically no time to actually read the FIC textbook they gave us.
The topics on first aid and flexibility were scientific and very interesting but there is no way that within an hour and a half (about how long each lecture was) we could memorize everything about those things. I think the main point is to research it later myself and understand it better. I can also read the textbook later about these topics. I am very glad they gave us a textbook. Unfortunately, it has many grammatical errors as a native English speaker did not edit it for them. Some things are hard to understand. This book is not the official Kukkiwon textbook, but a special textbook for the FIC graduates. I was hoping they would have given us an official Kukkiwon textbook, but I will have to buy that myself later for personal reference.
The gist of the messages that I personally learned from were that Taekwondo is a martial art. It is a fighting system. There is a sport of Taekwondo, but Taekwondo is not a sport in itself. Taekwondo in the past used to focus on serious things including killing techniques. The demonstrations of the past showcased many powerful things. Now days Taekwondo has turned into more of a performance show. The grandmaster who said this was the one on the topic about demonstration and he did not say if this was bad or not, but said it with the attitude that it simply is what it is…that Taekwondo is a serious fighting art and deadly (not in those exact words but it was implied heavily), yet it has changed and the culture wants something else. I feel he did not openly want to state this change to performance art demonstration was bad, but felt he was sort of negative about it and wanted us to be true martial artists who can fight. He told us he used to kickbox and that practical/actual fighting is something we as masters should be researching. This grandmaster also gave us a bulk of history lessons with his motivational approach. There are many important dates that we should all know about Taekwondo’s history. I took some notes and will now list them.
Demo’s are very important. Demonstrations are a way to advertise our martial art and “are first showing.” They are for advertisement and diplomacy. In the old days they showed many hard techniques such as power breaking, self defense including killing techniques. Now demonstration seems more of a performance and less people want to promote fighting. Koreans call this kind of combat sport K1. Everyone is interested in full contact fighting but they do not always want children training for this.
Instructors of Taekwondo need martial arts. This is what is the most important thing. Anyone can do sport and sport is not important. Martial arts is what is in our hearts.
1960 – there was the Vietnam demonstration which made Taekwondo to be viewed as a serious martial art in the world and showcased the effective fighting techniques. In the 60’s demos were not that important to do on the scale they were later.
1970 – demos became very important and emphasized. The Kukkiwon threw out the Pal Gwe forms and replaced them with the Tae Geuk poomsae.
1971 – The Kukkiwon established first it’s demonstration team.
1974 – The Kukkiwon then began to perform demonstrations worldwide.
1980 – Taekwondo became a university subject in Korea
Instructor’s need to know all poomsae and all the names of them. They need to know the real point of Taekwondo. They need to know gyoreugi (sparring), they should be able to perform various combinations of techniques, and instructors need to know how and do everything including real fighting. Instructors have to know how to actually fight.
The WTA president lectured us also about Taekwondo philosophy and about being powerful. Taekwondo is meant to build up muscle and strength and make one powerful. He was fierce in his lecture and even looked at me and did a mock strike at my face. I do not know why he did that. He also punched the podium and made a dent with his knuckle. I think he did it on accident but then pretended he meant to. HAHA! He slightly dented the wood on it and now it has his knuckle mark in it. He also made another swing at me later when speaking in order to surprise me. I sat in the front row and he went for my neck with a kind of knife hand or spear hand strike. This time I was ready and I blocked it. He acted surprised because I was prepared for it.
He also gave us a lot of health advice for our bodies. He told us that we must drink lots of water. He asked me how much water a day I drink and told me that a guy my size should drink 10 classes of water a day. He was so serious about water and said Koreans view it as “spirit” and it gives people life and spirit. We need to drink water. But he saw I had a large jug of Pocari Sweat and criticized me for drinking it claiming it is unhealthy and pure water is better. I know that science and research says otherwise though, that when doing extreme workouts and with excessive sweating sports drinks are better; but I did not argue. He also emphasized we should not drink cold water, but only warm water. Chinese people also believe this. I do not agree with this and believe many times cold water is better to drink if you are getting really hot in very hot and humid weather. We need to cool our bodies down. But typically we can drink lukewarm water and it is good. This is what I believe.
I had been living in Korea for the year before this course and what is funny is Koreans hardly drink water. Every day I barely see any Koreans drinking water throughout the day. The average Korean will attest that drinking water while eating is extremely bad for your health and ruins your digestion. This belief is unfounded and a superstition. Science says otherwise. Even so, in Korea they usually drink a small cup of water after a meal which is a child’s size cup by western standards. It makes no sense to me, but it was great to hear the WTA president claim we should drink loads of water. I do every day. Koreans think I am crazy for drinking so much water. Even though many Korean dishes are soups which include water which would contradict their claims that drinking water while eating is bad.
I will now list some notes from the lecture:
Philosophy is our base knowledge and what gives us confidence. It is how we know our own self.
Taekwondo philosophy is from our mind-ego-self confidence.
Masters must earn power and strength before they can even talk about Taekwondo philosophy. A master must build his muscles and power up and be strong. After this and only after can he talk philosophy.
Six tips for a healthy body: 1. fresh water 2. oxygen 3. proper food
4. Taekwondo training (not sports) 5. positive thinking
6. way or instruction of training (beup do)
You should not drink cold water, only warm water.
Breathing is important and there are 3 types of breathing. Automatic-mechanism, semi-automatic, and manual mechanism.
When we are sitting we should breath slow, but if we are active we should breath fast. Do not breath fast if you are not moving and just sitting or something. If you are active and moving you should breath fast and not slow. 11 parts of the body aide in breathing. With automatic breathing we breath 5cc’s of air. There are 2 parts of breathing air: Semi-automatic breathing clears out dirty air in our lungs such as when we yawn. Manual breathing must also be done to finish making our body clean. When doing meditation one should breath slow with the nose first and avoid dust and cold air. The nose makes air warmer.
Eat only when you are hungry. Eat until you are no longer hungry and do not eat anymore than that. Oil from food becomes stored in the body.
A true Taekwondo master must have the confidence to win and beat anybody.
A master should be able to make one motion and one kill. If you cannot do this then you are not a true master.
A master must have positive thinking and spirit.
The mind gets spirit from a healthy body.
A master should get healthy through Taekwondo training and not other physical training or sports. Taekwondo training itself is what should make us powerful and healthy.
The lessons from your master gives you a healthy mind.
Overall the grandmasters want Taekwondo masters to be powerful, know how to actually fight, be muscular, be tough and know all of Taekwondo. A master has to know it all. He cannot only know part of it. This goes against some of the attitudes that Taekwondo people worldwide believe that we should specialize in a certain part of Taekwondo such as being a poomsae expert, or a sport sparring expert, or a demo expert. I like how they told us we should know it all and be good at everything. We need to actually know how to fight and know self defense.
Taekwondo history and the Kukkiwon’s official stance
Taekwondo history was taught by Grandmaster Kim Young S. (9th dan). The Kukkiwon holds the belief that there were 5 main kwans that started Taekwondo in the beginning and that the history of Taekwondo starts in the late 40’s through Japanese Karate. The modern history is the most important history according to what they taught us. Of course they told us Taekwondo is originally from ancient martial arts in Korea going back 2,000 years which I honestly do not believe. We learned a small amount about subak, o byeng, subak-hee and other names. The last two are said to be unique martial arts to Korea. They believe that Okinawa was influenced by Korean martial arts somehow. I do not believe this at all. But some of the history was Korean national propaganda, but most of it was not. They did mention that China influenced Korea in in the beginning of their martial arts. One of the most interesting claims they made was that Taekyeon in fact DID NOT influence Taekwondo. They admitted that there is no evidence to support this claim and that Taekyeon existed along side soo bak and other styles. They claim only kwanbeop influenced Taekwondo.
The Kukkiwon also admits that later Japanese and Okinawan Karate influenced Taekwondo greatly. Mostly through Tang Soo Do which was Karate.
The 5 main kwans were:
Lee Wan Kuk’s Chungdokwan which was the Tang Soo Do style.
Yun Bung In’s YMCA Kwanbeop (this later became Chang Mu Kwan)
Chun San Sup’s Cheoson Yu Mu Kwan Beop Bu (this later was named Jidokwan, but they emphasized it was not originally Jidokwan at the time they founded Taekwondo originally)
Hwang Kee’s Mudukwon (originally he taught Hwa Soo Do but then later started teaching Tang Soo Do)
Byung Ji Ro’s Song Do Kwan
These kwans were all influential in what they called “original Taekwond0” which was around 1946-1947. Basically, it was Karate.
Here are some notes with dates and things that the lecturer told us are the official stance of the Kukkiwon about Taekwondo’s history:
The Korean War caused a lot of chaos. It was 1950-1953. This limited what kwans could be doing during this time.
General Choi was a 2 star general. He did not earn a real black belt in Karate in Japan and instead spent his time self training. There is no evidence to prove he ever received a black belt from Gichin Funakoshi. He founded the O Do Kwan with permission of the Chung Do kwan. O Do Kwan was a sub-kwan that became its own. The other kwan leaders actually were high dan ranks such as 4th and 5th dan black belts ranked in Japan in the art of Karate. Others were masters of Chinese martial arts as well. Choi was a general and had influence, but not from martial arts skills.
In 1955 General Choi came up with the name Taekwondo and the name was accepted by the other kwans in the KTA. He wanted to be a “power man” and take control and tell everyone what to do. Since he did not have masterful skills in martial arts the other kwan leaders did not respect him in the same way. Yet, he was trying to fully control Taekwondo. He did not actually create Taekwondo and coming up with a name for a unified Korean martial art does not make him the creator of Taekwondo. He did not even have a real black belt.
General Choi published the first Taekwondo book available to civilians. This is why people claim he wrote the first book on Taekwondo. But in reality 1 month before this book was published, the military had published a book on Taekwondo for soldiers. The difference was General Choi’s book was more developed.
General Choi was the 3rd president of the KTA. It is always stated that Choi was the 1st president of the KTA, but the Kukkiwon claims the first president was another general named Chae Myung Shin who was a 3 star general and collaborated with General Choi Hong Hi and had many discussions about Taekwondo. Choi was only a 2 star general. (If anyone wants to argue these claims do so in the comments and please provide some evidence and explanations). So according to the Kukkiwon official stance General Chae was the first president. Not General Choi. 2 different guys.
The KTA started sparring competitions. The KTA changed the martial arts name to Taesoodo. Later, General Choi changed the name back to Taekwondo when he was re-elected and became the 3rd president of the KTA.
In 1963 Taekwondo became an official demonstration sport for Korea
In 1964 the hogu was created by the Jidokwan. This is the Taekwondo chest protector. Later this year Taekwondo sparring became the official, national sport of Korea.
In 1971 Dr. Kim Un Young became the president of the KTA.
The concept of Kukkiwon (Ku Ki Won) was created which means “National Techniques.” Dr. Un Young Kim developed Taekwondo further for athletic competition.
The Kukkiwon building was built in 1972 on November 30th. This was 24 years after the beginning of Taekwondo.
1973 was a very important and major year for Taekwondo. The World Taekwondo Federation was established. Bruce Lee had used Taekwondo kicks in his movies which impressed the masses. He died that year and Bruce Lee was memorialized and much focus was on his martial arts. His movie kicks inspired many people to want to learn to kick like him. This same year the First World Championships occurred. Many people were impressed with Taekwondo’s kicking techniques. Bruce Lee actually trained with Taekwondo masters and learned kicks from them. One of these masters was a Kukkiwon master who is alive today. He was the one who was teaching this lecture.
1974 and 1975 the first and second Asian World Championships. Taekwondo was a demonstration sport and became more popular.
1976 a Korean Robot Cartoon movie about a hero who was a Taekwondo black belt who controlled a giant robot made Taekwondo really popular with kids.
1986 Taekwondo became an official sport in the Asia Games.
1988 Taekwondo became a demonstration sport in the Olympics
1994 Taekwondo was accepted to be an official Olympic sport.
1996 Taekwondo became a major image in Korean culture and the government made it the official sport and martial art and cultural heritage of Korea.
2000 Taekwondo was an official Olympic event. The first Olympic Taekwondo event.
The training in the FIC…
The training portion was small and maybe we had 2 to 3 total hours a day of physical training. We rushed through the poomsae so fast that you could not remember every detail. So hopefully people already knew the poomsae before coming to Korea, yet I know for a fact many did not. This is what is odd about foreign Taekwondo people is many were terrible at poomsae and did not even correctly know them. It was crazy and it became a big issue with them when it came to testing time. People who were 4th dan not correctly knowing poomsae or even all of them is so wrong! We also did not have to actually spar ever the entire course. I fully expected to do sparring. We never once geared up. During the sparring training all we did were some team building games and foot work as well as kicking the paddles in combinations. But don’t misunderstand me, the training was physically demanding. You had to be in shape and have decent cardio to make it through the entire workouts. It was also extremely hot and humid in Korea and the Kukkiwon had no air conditioning, but had some large tubes connected to large fans on the edges of the mat to direct air onto the floor.
They made us do movements over and over in the 90 degree heat in the Kukkiwon dojang. I felt like I was going to die, in fact most of us did. I sweated more than everyone there in fact. I went all out with every motion I performed. I felt odd because of the massive puddle of sweat I left all over my area. But as for making sure we could fight, I did not get any of that. We did have a self defense training session that was probably the best part of the course for me. It was fun and we worked on practical self defense and fighting. Punches to the face, knees, takedowns, armbars and chokes. Very cool. It was much like street fighting and MMA. It was awesome to know the Kukkiwon has the goal of promoting these kinds of things. True combat. The grandmaster who taught that portion also teaches the Korean army their combatives and he has worked with his team for 5 years to promote self defense to the Kukkiwon and wrote a book and made a video on it. It was inspiring to train this way and it is what I remember when I started Taekwondo as a teenager back in the 90’s. True fighting. There were a lot of joint locks and wrist lock throws and more. I totally loved this training and made me feel good about the possible future of Kukki Taekwondo being a real fighting art. The grandmaster also told me that he used to be competitive kickboxing as well. He was a real fighter and now taught the military.
The entire week we had to be in our doboks. I recommend bringing 2 each day because if you do physical training there is a big chance you will be soaked in sweat. You do not want to be in sweaty clothes sitting in a classroom the rest of the day. So bring 2. After the second day I began to bring 2 uniforms each day and benefited greatly from it.
One big thing I notice is the kindness and humility of the grandmasters. They took time to teach us and lecture us. They answered questions and were positive to us. Of curse they were strict and at times I felt afraid of them. Sometimes someone would be late or talk in class and one guy would yell or claim he should just leave because we don’t care he is teaching. But people quickly would say “No, no no!” They don’t play games, but they are very kind and love to share their knowledge. They were way nicer than some of the people who run the office. Almost all of them would stay for photos with people. Another funny thing i some of the are chain smokers even though it is typical understood smoking is bad for Taekwondo. I find this interesting. In fact most Korean men in general are chain smokers. I think it is simply an American thing that an instructor should not smoke or drink. Koreans smoke and drink like crazy. I am not encouraging people to smoke though. I think it is terrible.
I believe the Kukkiwon FIC is a must for any serious high ranking black belt who wants to make Taekwondo a huge part of his life and not just a hobby. Some foreigners told me that Taekwondo is just a hobby and they are only taking the course for the fun of it, and it is not a big deal. I find this annoying. We need future masters who will take the advice of the grandmasters and be true masters and fighters in our style. So I believe the FIC is good for a lot of inner knowledge and not just physical. It is good to be taught “the way they want it” and to at least listen to it. Take what you want and agree with whatever you agree with, and ignore the things you do not agree with. But take the course and get properly certified. Often they hold the FIC in other countries as well for people who cannot travel to Korea. But each year it is held in Korea so go to the Kukkiwon website and look at the news for when they are holding the next one. When you pass the course you will be added to the database online which will list your photo and that you complete the master instructor course. The qualification is recognized officially by the Kukkiwon and the Korean government.
That is just a basic summary of what I learned. Of course there were more lessons I learned but this is enough to explain what you should expect.